Well that was a launch. Bad weather forecasts, a deluge on L-1, and a hold at T-31 seconds. It had all the hallmarks of a typical shuttle launch and one that no other launch had ever had, finality.
I found myself desperately hoping the launch would go off as planned while, at the same time, hoping that the launch would be scrubbed. If we scrubbed, we would get to come back and do this again. Instead, Atlantis is in orbit and the final countdown has begun.
I was lucky enough to watch the launch with about 200 people who came to the Chabot Space & Science Center. While it certainly wasn’t as cool as being on the Space Coast, watching the launch with a community of folks was a tremendous experience.
The weather forecasts were grim, but across my stream came a tweet saying that the Launch Director thought there was a 60/40 chance of going today. The T-9 hold was painful, especially during the launch status verification, when Houston Flight asked to be polled last. Once we got through the polls and Mr. Moses announced that there was a waiver for RTLS weather, we were all excited! The clock started and counted down to T-31 seconds when we normally would have heard, “CGLS Auto Sequence start” and instead we heard a call for a hold.
Who outside of the engineering teams knew that a beanie cap sensor could hold up a launch. The crowd in the theatre certainly didn’t. There were big sighs in the crowd thinking there would be no launch today. However, the launch team did their job, handling the problem with ease and the count resumed! Once the count started again, everyone was at the edge of their seats. We all counted down the final 10 seconds aloud. Then,
LAUNCH! The SRBs lit off and there was no stopping the ride to orbit. It was 8 minutes of joy an agony all rolled in to one. We cheered at SRB sep and cheered the loudest at MECO. The 200 people there spanned all categories, but there were many kids… Parents brought their kids because they waned them to see this important moment in history. I brought my son because I wanted him to share this moment with other people. I wanted him to see that there is a community of people, not just his parents, who are interested in space exploration. I read in an article about the event that someone brought a copy of the newspaper they saved from the day STS-1 launch in 1981. That’s amazing…
It was an experience that I will always remember!